95:  My Doings at Linkin’s House

A black, white and orange cat against a background of flames.The day after Linkin told all that his mistress would go to London, I paid him another visit.

“I believe,” sayt I, setting down the fat rat I carried, “that I was too hastie in my first reading of my uncle’s Will.  I’ve seen now that he was most desirous for you to have a rat, even though you sought no fee from him.”

Linkin scarce looked at it.  I feared he was still offended with me.

“Caught this very morn,” sayt I. “In the malthouse.  A fragrant gift for your mistress.”

Linkin sayt nowt.

“My uncle,” sayt I, “set great store by your friendship.  He praised your wisdom many a time.  Even when there was none to hear him do it.”

Then I chanced to look up and saw that sly rogue Nero watching from behind the hedge.  He narrowed his eyes and turned away, but I knew he’d guessed what I was at.  I prayed he’d keep his thoughts to hisself.

Linkin sayt, “My house is turned topsy-turvy.  Our bed pulled down before mine eyes, and taken by a carrier.”

“Is your mistress still within?” I arrkst.

“No,” sayt Linkin, distracted.  “She rose early.”

(This answer so joyed Nero that he fell on his back and lay with his feet in the air.) 

“I mean,” sayt I, “is she still within the house?”  I feared I’d come too late and his mistress was gone.

“She’s making baskets ready,” sayt Linkin.  “And when I sat in one she spake a wicked word and cast me out the door.”   

“Are you not to go with her?” I arrkst, dismayed.

“I believe I shall.  She sayt that what she would not entrust to carriers will travel with her.  But I never thought to see the day when I’d share a horse with fowl.”

A brightly coloured rooster standing against a fence.

“You’ll go on horseback?”  (I’d thought there’d be a cart I could slip aboard.)

“I told you,” sayt Linkin.  “She’s preparing baskets.  But what if some calamity befalls us on the way, and I cannot free myself?  How can I flee robbers?  Our dog Wattie has sworn to protect me.  Well, he may talk fierce, but he is little.”

“Courage, friend,” called Nero, slipping through the hedge.  “Did not your mistress and her servants win the day when they gave battle in Cambridge-town?”

“That,” sayt Linkin, “was afore I was born.  I know no more of it than you do.”

“You know your mistress bought a brace of pistols when all feared the Spanish,” sayt Nero.  “Certes, she’ll carry them charged upon her saddle bow.  Best you tell her horse not to stumble, else they may discharge theirselves at him.  Or you.”

A black cat looking thoughtful.
Nero – Sea Cat, Adventurer, Poet, and Troublemaker.

He paused, then sayt, “Now tell me, friend, has your mistress prepared a basket for me?”

I knew Nero arrkst that in jest, but his words set Linkin about.  He wants no chamber-fellow.

“What?” cried Linkin. “Would you desert your master, who took you in after your old captain died?  You live well in his house.  He dropped by not long since with a bag of kitchen-eel [cochineal], and my mistress paid him in good coin.”

“True,” sayt Nero.  “We have a box of it that fell from a ship in Portsmouth.  And Queen Puss has so much, she’s forbid the import of more.  That keeps the price high, and us in choice vittles.  I thought to make a song of it, but verses on the Perilous Peregrinations of Mrs Quickfire and the Custard Cat will gather more applauds.”

I sayt, in haste, to Linkin, “You came safe here from London.  Sure, you can return safe.”

“I was little more than a kitling then,” sayt Linkin.  “I kept snug beneath my master’s coat, and we made good speed.”

“Then think not of this tedious journey, but of your destination.  Where will you lodge in the citie?”

That cheered him.  “I’ve never seen the house,” he sayt, “but I hear ’tis most commodious.  And nigh unto the Strand, where noble Essex dwells.  My mistress saw him ride by once.  He doffed his cap and bent his head to her.”

“Looking at her bubs, most like,” sayt Nero.  “Has she not a very fair pair?”

“Well, friend,” sayt I to Linkin, “All shall be sad to see you go.  When comes that day?”

“Soon,” sayt Linkin.  “If we have fair weather.”

“I’ll bide here till then,” sayt I.  “For ’twill grieve me to lose you so close upon my uncle.”

“Ah,” sayt Nero.  “Parting is such sweet sorrow.  As your uncle once sayt.”

“Didn’t he also say that a cat may whurr and whurr, yet be a villain?” I arrkst Nero.

Then I sayt to Linkin, “Best you offer your mistress this fine rat before Wattie your dog snaps it and wins the praise that should be yours.  And then I should like to make the akwayntance of the horse who’ll carry you.  Shall Wattie also ride with you?”

Wattie loved to chase me.  There was no malice in him; he thought I was his playfellow, but I feared he could end my voyage to the citie before it was begun.

A small section from a 1572 map of London.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTravel wasn’t easy in Elizabethan England.  However, this is a journey Linkin’s mistress must have made many times, though with less luggage.

Nero thinks Linkin is over-anxious.  Custard Cat may have been a reference to Linkin’s ginger and white fur, but “custard” also meant “coward”.  Does anyone else remember the children’s chant of “Cowardy cowardy custard”?

Nero could afford to make fun of Linkin.  He’d returned a hero from the Earl of Essex’ Islands Voyage the previous year, along with so much cochineal and indigo from captured Spanish cargoes that the market was at risk of being flooded.

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92:  We Honour My Uncle

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.There was much ado yesterday.

His Harryship rose before dawn, and all ran hither and yon to do his bidding.

He goes to join Mr Secretary [Sir Robert Cecil] on ambassage to the King of France.  They fear the King means to friend Spain, which will leave us and our Dutch allies in more danger than we are now.

All I can say is, Queen Puss should have sent the French King the aid he sought before he tired of fighting the Spanish.

What will Mr Secretary get for his pains?  Wet fur and no fish.  (As my mother would have sayt.)

His Harryship’s chamber was in disarray.  The kitchen cat and I made a good breakfast from his leavings.  Then I found paper, dipped his pen, and writ:

Touch not the basket of my Cat, nor the papers therein.  Burn this when you have read it.

H. Southampton.

I cannot write as well as a secretarie doth, but I would be a very poor skoller if I could not write as well as an Earl can.

Then I stepped out to where his horses waited, snorting and stamping.  They’ll not be so hawtie after being ridden through mire.

Our Earl was standing apart.  He was talking to a gardener.

“Most willingly, your lordship,” sayt the fellow, cap in hand, though he’d scarce enough hair to keep his brain warm.  “I’ll call my son.  He’ll count it an honour.”  And added in haste, lest he be thought insolent,Our childern loved that Gib.  Specially our poor Puss [Bess].

A strange thing happened.  A drop of water came from the gardener’s eye and left a glistering trail upon his cheek.  He begged forgiveness, saying, “She’s in Heaven now.”

Our Earl placed a hand upon his shoulder.  “I well recall your daughter,” sayt he in his softest voice.  And how he praised her!  The pretty curtsey she had made him, her fair speech, her sweet smile.

Yes, your Harryship, thought I.  Now I know why many love you.  But when your bum’s in the saddle and the world lies before you, will you spare a thought for my uncle or your gardener’s daughter?

Perchance I wrong him.

The horses moved off slow.  I walked a way behind them.

All saw a boy and girl come by with a small cart.  We heard the gardener call, “Do nowt blasphemious, mind.”

One of our Earl’s gentlemen sayt, “A funeral?  For a cat?”

His Harryship replied, “I told the gardener to bury him.  How his children go about it matters not to me.”  Then he added, “But the first lesson that cat taught me was worth the learning.  I took him up, and he shat on me.

A lesson in warefulness?  I doubt he’s learnt it.

I went to find Linkin and Nero.  They told me a cat from our stable had been by, inviting all to farewell my uncle at our Field on the morrow.

Nero had offered a song in his honour.

“What have you in mind?” I arrkst.  (I’ve not forgot how he contrived to insult me in the verse he made upon my late mother.)

“An excellent song,” sayt he.  “I heared it at our Earl’s house one summer eve as I sat ’neath a window.  Come again sweet love etcetera.”

“That’s a lewd song about a wicked woman,” sayt Linkin.

John Dowland’s First Book of Songs and Airs, printed in 1597.

“True,” sayt Nero.  “She hoist her tail for a gentleman, and then disdained him.  He was much aggrieved to learn there’d be no more scruffing.”

“She brake his heart,” sayt Linkin.  “And made mock of his misery.”

“One fool deserves another,” sayt I.

Nero sayt, “I’ll amend the words.”

I feared the worst.

But what a throng of cats came to our assembly!

Most could not believe my uncle was gone from this world.  He was with us for so long he seemed immortal.

“He was not of an age,” sayt one, “but for all time.”

Then Nero rose up.  He sang:

Come again, all cats do now invite
Friend Gib, who came so oft to bring us true delight.

To sit, to hear, to whurr, to sing, to sigh
with him again in sweetest sympathy.

Come again, that we may cease to mourn
because he did depart, and leave us all forlorn.

We wait, we weep, we wail, we waul, we cry
to ease our grief in feline harmony.

Poor verse.  But all gave Nero great applauds.

Some cats (readie to woo us queens, and fire-hot to show theirselves) joined with him to sing the song again.

Brats began to yowl in the cottages nearby.  One dog barked, then another.

“Once more!” cried Nero.  And all gave voice.

How we sang!  Even the youngest cats let out a waul or two, though they could scarce have known my uncle.  Nor heard his tales, save from mothers wishing to affright them with monsters and wicked witches.

A cottage door oped, and a woman came at us with a broom.  We fled away like shadows.

A fit end to my uncle’s funeral.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorI’m taking a break from blogging, so this will be the last post for a couple of months.

Gib’s niece (who would have written this in February 1598) might not have liked Nero’s verse, but at least Gib had a poetick send-off.

Unlike William Shakespeare, whose death in 1616 seems to have gone unremarked by his fellow poets.  Perhaps he should have remembered one or two of them in his will?

I hate to think what the “feline harmony” sounded like, but there are many modern renditions of John Dowland’s melancholy song that’s usually referred to as Come Again.  My favourites are by counter tenor/alto Daniel Taylor, and by tenor William Ferguson.

The Earl of Southampton had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to remain overseas for two years, and take with him 10 servants, 6 horses, and £200.  He also purchased a letter of credit for 1,000 crowns, payable to him in Rouen (Akrigg, p.69).

He must have been delighted to be on the move.  But he did take a fond farewell of Elizabeth Vernon shortly before he sailed.